Not long ago, I sat in a favorite store’s paint department on a Saturday to play “paint doctor.” It was great fun for me, and it was a smash hit for the store. Apparently, many people find picking paint colors nearly as intimidating as public speaking. (I’m an odd duck, I suppose, since I like both.)
Painting a room is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to “remodel.” In terms of cost and complexity, painting goes a long way in achieving dramatic redecorating results. Choosing your paint color can be the most fun of the entire painting process, even though it’s sometimes the most daunting and challenging part of the process. So many choices! Benjamin Moore alone offers over 3,300 different colors.
Most paint companies offer pint-size paint samples that can be mixed in any of the fashionable hues you see in their samplers. There are also on-line resources for “virtual painting” if you prefer to test-drive a color before embarking on a large painting project. I have included several of these below.
It’s also comforting to know that nowadays, thanks to environmental regulation and consumer demand, virtually every color of the rainbow is available in a low-VOC or no VOC version. (VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, and they are the carbon-based compounds that create that new paint smell. When you detect that smell, you are inhaling chemicals that are not good for you.)
Color and Emotion
Our thermal comfort is affected by the actual temperature of the air, by the amount of wind, sun and moisture we feel, and also by our emotional response to colors.
We refer to watery blues and greens as “cool colors” and to fiery yellow, red and orange as “warm colors”for reasons rooted in our psychological response to our environment and in our physical sensations.
Language, too, reveals these connections. We say we’re “hot under the collar” when we’re angry and we refer to being “red in the face” when we’re embarrassed. Those terms correspond to the physical sensations that accompany these emotions.
Choosing Hue and Finish
A good place to start in choosing a color is to think about what you want to do in your room and how you want to feel. Think about what kind of mood you want to create.
Do you need a retreat that allows you to relax and feel serene? If so, greens, muted blues and grays are good choices.
Do you want to encourage conversation and fun? Then think yellow, orange or a neutral color scheme that’s accented with red or orange areas.
If you’re trying to make a home office look business-like, earth tones and neutrals are good choices.
On the other hand, if you’re decorating a child’s room, and she wants to feel like a fairy princess, you might want to consider lavender and white with gold accents.
Next, think about how well the colors you’re considering will hold up given the activities the room will hold. An all-white dining room accented with Italian pottery can be warm and welcoming, but it could be a breakable, stainable disaster for a family with small children. You should consider both your furnishings and lifestyle when choosing colors and paint finishes. While matte white walls and small children are not a good combination, an eggshell- or enamel-finish green or yellow will probably hide little fingerprints and bear clean-up better.
Tips on Trying Out a Color
You can also get a much better idea of how a color is going to look by buying a small sample can of paint and trying a patch – or several patches of different colors – on your wall.
Be sure to look at the patches repeatedly throughout a day. It’s best to observe how the hue changes in bright sun, under clouded natural light, and in artificial light at night.
Lamplight tends to be pink or yellow, depending on how it’s produced. Natural light, however, is quite blue.
When a strong beam of light hits a wall, it will also reflect the color onto adjacent walls, increasing the impact of the color, and changing the appearance of adjacent walls.
Color Changes Our Perception of Space
White or pale colors make objects appear to recede. Dark or bright colors draw things closer, and that, in turn, causes them to appear larger. Perceptually, yellow, red and orange seem to move toward us, while a blue or green wall, or one that’s painted a dark gray, will appear to move away.
Knowing this, you can use paint to improve the way an awkwardly-shaped room looks. For example, you can make a corridor look less long, thin and cramped by painting the side walls a lighter color than the wall at the far end of the hall. You can doubly enhance the effect by painting the end wall a strong, warm color like brick red or ochre orange.
Color Can Improve
You can also use color and finish to help a room that gets too much, or too little, sun. A light-colored surface will reflect more light than a dark surface. You can also hide unattractive objects, such as the convection heater I recently installed in my dining room, by painting them the same color as the walls.
Here are some tricks for using color to improve problem spaces:
- Lower a high ceiling: If you paint the walls a light color and the ceiling a darker color, it will appear lower. The opposite also works; a ceiling that is lighter than the walls will appear higher.
- Make the room more intimate: Dark, warm colors make a space feel cozy and intimate.
- Break up a big room: Use colors to define areas within the room. In a big, open loft, changes in wall or even floor color can differentiate the living room area from the dining and TV areas.
- Make the room bigger and more airy: Use light colors, pastels or shades of same color.
Many people are afraid to add color to their walls. If you see something you like, but still are unsure, you can buy a quart and paint just one wall. Because it’s only paint and can be repainted, you can experiment without much risk.
- Affordable low-VOC paints, list from Treehugger website
- Ashwiny Mumbai Apartment:
slideshow on Apartment Therapy
- Benjamin Moorepaint
- Comfort and Joy Home Design (the author’s firm)
- Consumer Reports tests of low-VOC paints
- Mythic No-VOC paint
- Pratt and Lambert online colorizer
- Sherwin Williams paint
Sacre Bleu: More Coleurs!
The following anecdote comes from Sophie, one of the loyal readers of this blog. Sophie is a stained glass artist and says that she’s a “colorista” – and she thought that I didn’t have enough color photos in this post. She challenged me on that point on Facebook!
I challenged her back, and the result is that Sophie shared the following photos and story with Living in Comfort and Joy.
“The story goes: I have a specific china with deep pink tulips and roses. When I saw the stained glass with a pattern so “similar” – I had to have it. So I bought it, restored it, installed it.
“When it was time to pick the color for the dining room, I grabbed 4 chips of saturated pink ‘related’ to the tulip heart – I pushed pin them next to the window (the less direct light, and the less forgiving area of a room), then picked the one that remains cheery and yummy like a lollipop in the cloudiest, foggiest day.
“And painted – with the help of my youngest (who was randomly wearing red pants that look pink as well).
“The story ends when the room was all painted and I opened the box of china that was stored for a few year. I live a risky life: I never checked that the china pink would match the walls before the room was finished… only counting on my color memory over the years.
“And it does!”
I’m so glad it worked out. Although my color memory is also very good, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to paint without checking the china against the wall. But then again, Sophie is an exotic transplant. She speaks French. She has panache. (Although I have a very French name, I’m many, many generations removed and sadly, speak only enough French to order what I like in restaurant.)